Sunday, October 02, 2011

It's ALL about the context ...

It's ALL about the context !

Over the last fifteen years I have tried over and over to encourage and promote the use of Fair Trade products in the various Churches I've served. I long ago gave up using anything BUT Fair Trade when it comes to my coffee and tea - I will not claim the high ground of saying I ONLY use Fair Trade coffee and tea and nothing else, but I try to consciously use Fair Trade most of the time including when I'm travelling or out and about. There are times when there is none available, but at home my coffee is 100% Fair Trade and our tea cupboard is about 75% Fair Trade.

SO, having said that - I find it fascinating to look at the last six months or so and realize how successful our Fair Trade promotion has been here in little old Flesherton. Not only have we claimed a niche at the Farmers' Market with out booth, we have managed to do far more than simply sell Fair Trade coffee to a handful of customers.

We have coffee, tea, sugar, dried fruit, chocolate, hot chocolate powder, and a variety of merchandise products available. Since we began in May, our selection of coffee and tea has grown from about a dozen varieties to the full catalogue of Level Ground products, well over a dozen teas from Just Us, and a wide range of other items.

Our sales have proven to be very strong with over 1000 individual items passing through our booth and displays in the last six months. This has resulted in a number of achievements worth touting.

First off, it has raised close to $1000 for the Pastoral Charge, which is not insignificant.

It has also, and perhaps most importantly, raised awareness in the community of our existence and our commitment not only to justice causes, but to our greater community as well. In addition to people saying over and over "Really? There is a United Church in Eugenia? (or Flesherton?" we've had new faces pop up among us from the contacts at the Farmer's Market, AND we've managed to help be a conduit for the local Food Bank receiving day old baking, fresh unsold produce and other donations to help those in need.

The United Church Congregations through the sale of Fair Trade products has managed to achieve the very vision of community involvement I have, for the last 15 years held out as a very attainable goal. We are no longer simply the Congregation that once was, today St John's and Eugenia United Churches are standing proudly as contributing and committed members of the community, doing more than just supplying lovely Sunday morning Services.

People know who we are. People know where we are. And people feel that we are part of the community and they are welcome to be part of our's.

The simple question while standing over the table of Fair Trade products - "what time is Sunday Service?" tells us that our outreach is working. Comfortable with our presence in the Farmer's Market, people feel welcome enough to consider attending our worship services.

It is amazing to stop and reflect back on the decision by the Church Council to join the Farmer's Market with a regular booth. I will admit I was skeptical, but supportive. I was willing to make it happen, but feared a negative outcome. But the Council made the suggestion, supported the decision and now is clearly reaping the benefits of this bold initiative.

For my part, I'm delighted to see what can happen when a faith community takes seriously the challenge of thinking outside the box.

At no point did we see our involvement at the market as a means of proselytizing, but instead wanted to engage in outreach by simply selling Fair Trade products and letting people know it was important to us.

The enthusiasm proved contagious ... we have a large pool of loyal customers, and we've gained and benefited in many, many ways.

I've long said, the Fair Trade movement is about changing the world "one cup of coffee at a time", today after seeming to beat my head against an immovable wall for almost 15 years, I stand in a place where a faith community not only embraced that notion, but took it to a whole new level.

The people of Flesherton Pastoral Charge can and should be proud of this ministry, and what they've achieved thus far. They opened a door and boldly stepped through benefiting themselves, their community, and dozens of other communities around the world who know have a connection to the Grey Highlands.

AND, best of all, this commitment is not ending, nor going on hiatus over the winter. Taking the example of the Wonder Cafe coffee houses suggested some time ago within this United Church of ours, we are hosting regular Coffee Cafe and Bazaars throughout the winter months to provide our customers and communities a Souk-like place to gather, buy coffee, and hopefully be joined by other vendors, artisans, and crafters who want to sell their wares.

No longer a place that is just about Sunday Morning Services, St John's and Eugenia United Churches are boldly and faithfully reclaiming their roles as hubs in their communities.

The doors are open like never before, and they are ready, willing and wanting to welcome in their community.

It is from where I sit today, simply breath-taking ... It's all about the context. When a community is willing to live and grow and share it's faith, ANYTHING can happen !!

I've said this countless times in my ministry. It's nice to stand in a place where it is actually and FINALLY happening !!! It is truly ALL about the context in which you live and move and share your faith !!!

Dayenu !!

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